Monday, December 5, 2016

Day 9: Swimming with Lightning

July 13: Normally I've been waking up and hitting the trail by 6:00, but this morning I lingered for a couple of extra hours reading The C&O Canal Companion. I had read ahead in the book before coming to the trail to know what was ahead but hadn't had time to finish it before arriving, and I'd now caught up with with where I was in the book. I didn't want to walk past a bunch of interesting history and not even know it or understand what I was seeing! So I lingered in camp for a couple of extra hours to read ahead.

Barracks at Ford Frederick. See the walls of the fort behind it?
The late start also gave me a chance to chance to chat with Rick and Deborah, who I was still calling George and Stephanie. I had really enjoyed their company and was a bit sad that I wouldn't be seeing them again. Not only were they traveling in the opposite direction as myself, but they were on bikes and would be covering two or three times more distance than I would.

It didn't rain during the night--yet another evening where it turns out I set up my tarp for no good reason at all. Although by morning, it certainly looked like it might rain at any minute, and just as I was leaving camp, there was a spittle of sprinkles. Not a "rain" per se, but an occasional drop of water that hinted at worse things to come. Within a couple of hours, though, the clouds cleared up and the oppressive heat and humidity returned.

Early in the morning I passed near an old French and Indian War fort. Fort Frederick was located about a quarter-mile off the C&O Canal--certainly close enough for a quick visit! The fort was never directly attacked, but it was used to imprison POWs that Americans captured during the Revolutionary War. I was mostly surprised that there was anything that survives from the French and Indian War--the fort was built in 1756-57. There's not much that survives from that long ago! Although by 20th century, much of the fort was in ruins. Some of the walls still stood as high as 8 feet, but it was reconstructed after some archaeological excavations and the original plans for the fort were discovered and it was turned into Maryland's first state park in 1922.

It was still early in the morning when I arrived and the park was completely deserted of people. I left my stroller near the entrance of the park and wandered the ground--which took less than 10 minutes--before I retrieved my stroller and headed back to the trail. It was a fun diversion, but a short one!

Throughout the day I saw a number of trail crews driving up and down the trail. While it is a trail, the towpath is certainly wide enough to accommodate vehicles and trail crews will do just that. The first couple of vehicles that passed me didn't bother me so much, but it became increasingly annoying the more I saw. They're large, and loud, and detract of the quiet, peaceful setting I had grown accustomed to. Additionally, I'd have to push my stroller off the side of the trail onto thick grass or sloped areas so the vehicle could drive past--which wasn't always easy. Given the large number of access points, I kept asking myself why the trail crews couldn't just park at the nearest access area and hike in like is done with "real" trails. So I was a little annoyed about that.

In the early afternoon, I had reached the town of Hancock, MD, where I stopped for a quick lunch and in the hopes of finding an Internet connection I could use to check in with my family. I still had no cell phone service since leaving Harpers Ferry. Even when I was in town here, I still had no service! Civilization everywhere, but I actually got better service deep in the wilderness on the AT the year before.

I was able to get online, though, and gave both Amanda and my mom a Skype call. My mom wished me a belated birthday.

"What?! I missed my own birthday?!"

Turns out, I hadn't. My birthday is the 14th, but I did almost miss it because I had thought today was the 12th and tomorrow--my actual birthday--was the 13th. Unless I had gotten the date straightened out before then, by the time I thought it was my birthday, I'd have been a day late! My mom checked a calendar and we got the date straightened out. Tomorrow would be my birthday.

"Happy early birthday, then!" she told me. She couldn't be sure when I'd be calling again (I didn't know either!) and without cell phone service, she couldn't call me.

While online, I checked the weather forecast again to see what I should be expecting and was disappointed to see that rain was expected late in the afternoon and overnight every single day--including today--for the next several days. *sigh* Oh, well... nothing I could do about that except be prepared!

I picked up a hitchhiker on my pack!
After lunch, I walked to Sheetz, a small convenience store where I resupplied some snacks and goodies, then headed back to the trail again.

I hiked another 5 or so miles out of town to the Leopards H/B camp where I stopped for the day. Angry clouds had rolled in late in the day, but thankfully no rain materialized and I set up my tarp while it was still dry. I walked to the edge of camp along the Potomac River to check out my skinny dipping options, but there was a small but very vertical cliff between me and the river. I looked at it, unsure about how to get down to the water. Maybe I wouldn't be going for a swim this evening after all, which I found a little sad. I'd been growing rather fond of my nightly swims each evening.

A train ran by immediately on the other side of the river, loud and clear. I love the sound of a distant train during the night, but this was definitely way too close and loud. I hoped the tracks weren't used very much--or at least not so much during the night--but an hour later, another train went by. They seemed to go by every hour or so. I wasn't going to get a lot of sleep tonight....

Near dusk, a bicyclist arrived at the campsite. He was an older man that looked like he could have had a dozen grandchildren. He set up his tent on the complete opposite side of the campsite as me and didn't even stop to introduce himself. Which was okay by me--he seemed a little loony, having an angry discussion with himself for over an hour. When I was under my tarp, I actually thought that there were two people who had arrived in camp that were arguing with each other! It wasn't until I poked my head out to check out my new neighbors that I realized that there was only one of them. I was perfectly happy to keep my distance. =)

By sunset, the mosquitoes came out in force which annoyed me to no end. The fireflies came out as well, which I very much enjoyed watching and didn't bother me so much since they didn't bite, but those stupid mosquitoes.... Argh! Just another reason for me to take a swim in the Potomac. They can't bite any part of me that's underwater. =)

An ants-eye view of the trail.
After writing my journal entry for the night and catching up on my book about the history along the trail, I went back to the edge of the campsite and took another look at the Potomac at the bottom of the small cliff. In the distant clouds, I saw a lightning flash light up the clouds. Well, shoot, I thought. It can't possibly be a good idea to swim in the Potomac during a thunderstorm! But gosh, I really wanted to swim....

I did manage to scramble down the cliff with a great deal of difficulty, trying to hang onto roots sticking out of the cliff to prevent slipping or falling.

Once at the bottom, I took off my clothes and waded into the water, lightning be damned! Actually, I do kind of value my life, but decided that I'd limit myself to five minutes in the water or until I heard thunder--whichever came first. The lightning still seemed like a long way off, and the fact that I couldn't hear thunder at all seemed to confirm the fact. So I'd limit myself to 5 minutes.... or until I heard thunder in which case it was getting too close.

The five minutes came first, and I felt great soaking in the water, but reluctantly left it anyhow keeping my promise to myself. I dried off, put my clothes back on, and scrambled up the cliffs using the same roots and toeholds I used on my way down. With some difficulty, I made it back to the top of the cliff and back into camp.

Strangely, the temperature spiked up again. It was now close to 10:00 at night, but I swear that the temperature felt 20 degrees warmer now than it did at sunset. How is this possible?! And the bugs seemed to love it because they came out of their hiding places thick and furious.

I really didn't need a sleeping bag at all to stay warm, but I threw it over myself like a blanket to help keep the mosquitoes away and was generally miserable the rest of the night--hot, sweaty, and buzzed by mosquitoes the whole night, with a loud train passing by once every hour or two. In hindsight, I wished I had stayed in Hancock and found lodging in town.

Oh, look at that! A big ol' tortoise on the trail!
He seemed kind of shy, though.... Look at the claws on that thing!
Construction on the trail! Watch out for large machinery!

Little Pool H/B Camp
Lock 52
The bridge that leads into Hancock, MD.
Downtown Hancock. Notice the brown sign pointing back to the C&O Canal?! =)
The flower on my stroller found a new "friend" in Hancock. *nodding* =)
Back to the trail!
This is a modern highway bridge for Route 522 to cross the canal and Potomac River.
These stone arches above the canal were limestone kilns that were part of a cement mill located here.
Potomac River
This is the remains of a waste weir where excess water from the canal could flow out safely to the Potomac.
Leopards Mill Campsite where I'd spend the night. You can't really see the cliff in this photo, but there's a near vertical (albeit short) drop from the campsite to the river level.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For those east coast hot and humid zones near rivers we have to camp with netting just to keep the bugs further away from our heads!